How to stop a puppy biting?
Biting and chewing is common in puppies up to one year of age. Much biting and chewing is related to teething in puppies. However, you need to start establishing boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not from the first day you bring your dog home.
While you may think your little puppy is adorable when it growls and bites, you will no longer think it is cute when it turns into a 50kg grown up dog biting. And you don’t want your dog’s biting and nipping to send someone to the hospital for stitches.
When your puppy comes home with you and is living in a human family, they need to be taught that games with humans don’t include teeth! You don’t want puppy biting to be a continued behaviour into adulthood but you do want to teach them appropriate ways for you to play and have fun together:
- Don’t play rough games with your puppy or push them around with your hands, this is just encouraging them to use their teeth to grab at you.
- All interactions with your hands should be gentle and soothing; stroking, ear rubs, back-scratching etc. Your puppy should learn that your hands are good things and not tug toys or dog chews.
- For gentle games of tug, use toys and not your hands. Your puppy needs to chew (and when they are teething, this is ever more important) but you should be encouraging them that toys are for chewing, hands aren’t. Toys such as the Jelly Bone or Jelly Worm treat dispenser toys are ideal.
- Give your puppy safe toys to chew on, stuffed Puppy Kongs are great and you can even make your own toys using treats inside old cardboard toilet rolls that will let them bite and chew safely. The natural KONG alternatives, such as Buffalo Horn or calf hooves are also good.
What should you do if the puppy bites you?
When you bring a puppy into your home, it’s your job to create boundaries and be consistent with applying the rules for unwanted behaviours, including when it comes to teeth on skin.
- Don’t overreact or shout at him as that will just make your puppy scared of you.
- If it was just a one-off accident, ignore it and carry on playing – we all make mistakes.
- If it happens again, you should ignore the behaviour and remove yourself from the situation without any drama (do not create a naughty puppy corner; just leave the room). Remove yourself for 20 seconds or so.
- By leaving the interaction, you tell your puppy that play is over, fun is over, attention is over. Be as non-dramatic as possible.
- If the behaviour is hard for you to ignore, go behind a door or baby gate where your puppy does not have access to continue nipping at you.
- When you return, introduce a toy into the game so that your puppy has something else to bite. If your puppy tries to nip at you again, remove yourself again, this time for a minute
- When you return, carry on as nothing has happened before. Life is too short to hold grudges!
- Every time the puppy bites you, remove yourself with increasing amount of time if the biting continues whenever you return.
You should see a major decrease in the intensity of biting as well as the amount of biting attempts within a few days.
Don’t forget to give your pup attention and praise when they are behaving nicely! The key is praising him for good behaviour and ignoring unwanted behaviour.
All family members and guests MUST be consistent in order for this to work!
Why Does This Work?
A behaviour that doesn’t get reinforced will stop, it’s as simple as that.
Your pup will learn that we don’t react to biting with play, attention, or even a negative reaction. All of these things can be fun for a puppy. He/She will also learn to self-entertain. Once they realise the nipping isn’t working, they will eventually find something else to do and hopefully find a toy to play with.
Puppies love the interactions with humans and your puppy will seek out appropriate ways to get your attention, like offering a “sit” or laying at your feet.
A few other suggestions to help you stop a puppy biting:
It’s also good to create a safe place for your puppy, be it a dog crate or baby-gated area of a room. This gives you a break from your puppy, and is a calm place for your puppy to settle down if he gets too wound up.
Make sure your puppy has plenty of rubbery teething toys (Beco bone), age-appropriate natural chews (Puppy Chomper Box) and is getting daily exercise, and is not excessively crated. If his needs are not being met, the nipping will take longer to extinguish.
Remember that puppies up to the age of 6 months, need to have three meals a day as this helps them have sufficient energy for the day (a tired puppy is more likely to bite/nip)
Similar to little kids, puppies can find even negative attention fun! Things we may think are punishing, like pushing your puppy away, yelling at him, etc, can be considered fun, play-like behaviours for your puppy and can encourage biting. As such when you apply the above rules, be as quiet and calm as you can.
When should you be concerned about biting in puppies?
You should speak to a dog trainer/behavioural therapist if your puppy:
- Is growling, snapping, or biting when a person comes near a resource (food, toys, etc)
- Stiffens and stares at the person before biting.
- Is consistently biting and breaking skin.
- Barks, growls, or nips (not in play) at new people entering the home.
- Snaps or growls at children, who are the most common victims of bites. Click here if you want to know more about how to teach your children to behave around dogs.
Above all, don’t forget that in the vast majority of cases, puppy biting and mouthing is EXTREMELY normal, for several reasons:
- Puppies explore the world with their mouths.
- They go through an uncomfortable teething process that lasts for 2-3 months, most commonly between the age of 4-6 months.
- They play hard with their siblings, often using their teeth to (successfully) instigate play and attention.
Some herding breed dogs are predisposed to nip, herd, and chase small, fast-moving things. On the other hand, Retrievers are predisposed to picking up and holding anything and everything within reach, including your hands and arms.
A word on what to avoid:
- Above all else, avoid physical punishment when it comes to puppy biting.
- Do not squeeze g your puppy’s mouth shut, pin them on their backs, or muzzle them to stop the biting.
- You do not need to physically punish him to curb this behaviour as the root cause is not dominance, but just simple puppyhood.
Puppy biting is totally normal but you have to be able to react in a manner that teaches your puppy what is acceptable behaviour.
In order to turn your puppy into a healthy, well-rounded adult dog, you need to meet all his basic needs, such as regular exercise, 3 meals a day, plenty of sleep, nutritious food, good-quality, age-appropriate toys and natural, puppy-friendly chews to help relieve teething pain. Chewing is an essential activity for puppies as it:
- reduces teething pain
- relieves boredom and anxiety and
- promotes dental health by ensuring jaws and teeth remain strong and healthy, free of tartar
Click here to discover our 100% natural chews and treats to help your teething puppy.
We also have some lovely toys to entertain young pups.
Get in touch if you’d like more advice.